Edinburgh Napier scientists join Leonardo DiCaprio to aid Kenyan mangrove forest

Scottish scientists have launched an ambitious new mangrove forest conservation project in east Africa with backing from Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Wednesday, 26th June 2019, 7:13 pm
Edinburgh Napier scientists have launched the ambitious new mangrove forest conservation project with backing from Leonardo DiCaprio.

Edinburgh Napier University’s Vanga Blue Forest project, in Kwale County, southern Kenya, aims to protect a mangrove forest of 460 hectares, and three villages which are home to 8,700 people.

Among the funders is the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, an organisation set up by the Wolf of Wall Street actor to work with environmental experts, organisations and philanthropists to protect threatened ecosystems.

Mangrove forests support biodiversity, act as a natural sea wall and provide shelter and food to fish and shellfish species. They also store huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to fight climate change.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The project involves planting new mangrove trees and protecting the existing forest, increasing the carbon dioxide that it can absorb from the atmosphere.

This carbon can then be sold as carbon offsets to people and organisations wanting to lower their carbon footprint.

The project is modelled on the university’s pioneering work on the Mikoko Pamoja initiative, “Mangroves Together” in Swahili, where staff and students worked with local villagers and researchers in nearby Gazi Bay to protect threatened mangrove forests and fund community development.

Lead scientist Professor Mark Huxham, from the university’s school of applied sciences, said carbon offsetting plays a vital role in the project.

“Mangrove forests are one of nature’s most powerful carbon sinks and are vital for the local people and the wildlife that rely on them.

“By using carbon offsets to fund their conservation, we are helping to ensure they ­

will continue to provide these services for generations to come.”

The offsets generated in the first year will be available for purchase in 2020 from Association for Coastal Ecosystem Services (ACES), a Scottish-registered charity. Income from the project, certified by the Plan Vivo Standard, will fund further forest conservation activities and community development projects.

Robyn Shilland, ACES trustee and Edinburgh Napier alumnus, said: “We are very proud to work with the Kenyan government, with the people of Vanga and with Plan Vivo to achieve this unique project.

“It shows how people from very different backgrounds and with very different skills can come together and help make a difference to conservation and the climate crisis.”

Mikoko Pamoja is now in its fifth year. The benefits it has brought to the community include the provision of wells, schoolbooks and hospital equipment, as well as protecting mangroves.

The project in Kenya’s Gazi Bay, 50km south of Mombasa, was named as a winner of the 2017 Equator Prize - which honours nature-based local solutions for sustainable development - by the United Nations Development Programme.

Shortly afterwards, Leonardo DiCaprio announced funding of $50,000 from the Foundation he established to work on pressing environmental issues.